Monday Night Football Preview: Cardinals at Cowboys

For the third week in a row, there will be multiple games after Sunday night. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NFL to make some drastic changes to their schedule and flex games all over the place. In Week 6, for example, there will be two Monday night games. One that was moved from Thursday night and one that was originally scheduled in the Cardinals and Cowboys. Both Dallas and Arizona are in the NFC playoff hunt and will look to keep their winning ways going Monday night after coming off consecutive losses in Weeks 3 and 4.

– Monday Night Football Preview–

Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

Spread: Cardinals (-1) | Over/Under: 55.5

Vegas Odds

In this game, Vegas is predicting a very close matchup, only favoring Arizona by only one point. Both of these teams are high caliber teams and should put forth a great contest on Monday night. With the line being so close, I would bet on the favorite in the matchup as they should be able to win outright or at least cover the spread. Take Arizona and the points in this game.

Due to the power of both of these offenses, this game has an over/under line of 55.5 points. The Cowboys and Cardinals have scored a combined average of 58.2 points through Week 5, so even if both teams play to their average they will hit the over. Not to mention both of these defenses have underperformed so far this season and will have their hands full with the offenses they will be tasked with stopping. Take the over in this matchup.

Quarterbacks

This matchup was supposed to feature two young athletic quarterbacks who would be battling for the first time in their young careers. But, much like everything else in 2020, there has been an unexpected change. Dak Prescott will miss the rest of the season due to a gruesome leg injury and will be replaced by Andy Dalton going forward. Dalton will provide veteran stability to a young Dallas offense but Prescott’s arm talent and mobility will be missed. Dalton will be stepping into a Monday night game against the Cardinals, a defense that is ranked 16th against fantasy quarterbacks through Week 5 (depending on scoring format). It is a less than ideal matchup provided the circumstance, but Dalton will be able to adjust quickly, given the extra practice time. While Dalton will not have anywhere near the upside that Prescott presented this season, he will be a solid play Monday night as a QB2 or a Superflex.

Kyler Murray has had a very solid 2020 season, at least from a fantasy perspective. He is the QB5 through Week 5 (depending on scoring format) with 1299 passing yards, eight touchdowns, six interceptions on a 69.6 completion percentage along with 296 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. His rushing numbers have helped elevate his fantasy production in particular, as Murray himself has the sixteenth most rushing yards and is tied for the second-most rushing touchdowns through Week 5. These numbers along with his solid passing production has made him a weekly start in fantasy lineups and someone with top tier expectations, especially in favorable matchups (Dallas has the tenth worst defense against fantasy quarterbacks through Week 5). Feel confident in starting Murray on Monday night.

Running Backs

Fantasy Football RankingsEzekiel Elliott is a player who has been towards the top of draft boards and preseason fantasy rankings pretty much since his rookie season back in 2016. But, he is also someone who given his fantasy owners mixed feelings and migraines. He is someone who has never finished the season lower than the RB12 (and that was in 2017 when he was suspended for six games due to violating the personal conduct policy) in PPR leagues but somehow always finds a way to post dud games in big spots (Elliott has not scored more than 15.9 fantasy points in PPR scoring formats or even gotten a touchdown in Week 16 games since 2016).

However, Elliott has been fairly consistent this year, finishing on average around the RB8 in PPR formats through Week 5. He will be one of the players who’s dynamic will likely shift the most in the new Dallas offense with Prescott sidelined. This will be Elliott’s first game without Prescott starting since they were both drafted in 2016 so it will be a large adjustment for him to make. Without Prescott’s mobility to keep defenders on their toes, Elliott will be taking on a lot of new tasks he has not been asked to do before. Elliott will be up to the task, he is one of the NFL’s elite talents at the running back position and the Cowboy’s staff will have some extra time to cook up some ways to get the most out of him on Monday night and going forward into 2020.

In this matchup, the Cardinals have had trouble containing running backs, especially ones used in the passing attack. Arizona is the tenth worst defense against fantasy running backs so far in 2020 (depending on scoring format) but have allowed the ninth-most receiving yards and second-most touchdowns to the position group in the league through Week 5. For someone who catches around five passes per game, Elliott will have more than enough chances to lit up the Cardinals and put up a big fantasy performance. Feel confident in Elliott on Monday night and expect a top-three weekly finish for him this week.

One running back that fantasy owners are lacking confidence in is Arizona’s, Kenyan Drake. Drake burst onto the fantasy scene in 2019 after being moved from Miami in Week 8. He posted 814 scrimmage yards and eight rushing touchdowns from Weeks 9 through 17 last year, making him the RB4 in PPR scoring leagues during that time frame and allowing him to finish as the RB17 overall in 2019. Many prospective owners were curious about how that production would translate into 2020 after a full offseason with the Cardinals staff and if this stretch was something to be expected or just a flash in the pan.

Well, at least through Week 5, it seems like we have the answer to that question.

Despite getting the most touches (91 through Week 5) on one of the best offenses in the league this year, Drake has fallen flat as a fantasy asset. His best game was Week 1 versus the 49ers where he finished as the RB17 in PPR formats with 14.5 fantasy points. Since then he has been so bad that his own teammate, Chase Edmonds, is ranked higher than him on the season (RB32 and RB29 respectively). Drake will look to regain some momentum Monday night against a Cowboys defense that has had trouble stopping the run so far in 2020, allowing the fourth-most yardage and tied for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns through Week 5. Drake is shaky start this week like he has been for most of 2020 but the matchup is there for him to get things rolling like he did during the end of last season. Start Drake and expect a low-end RB2 performance for him against Dallas.

For Edmonds, he has filled the role of receiving back for the Cardinals and has been a constant target for Murray in recent weeks. Edmonds usage in the offense and snap percentage have increased since Week 3 and there is no indication that his role is going diminish in a significant way unless Drake takes over as a full workhorse, which is very unlikely given his play and the philosophy of this coaching staff. Edmonds will continue to find ways to make plays and have a presence week to week, especially in weaker matchups. One thing to keep in mind for Monday night’s game is despite their low ranking overall, Dallas has been able to hold pass-catching backs in check so far in 2020. In fact, they have only allowed 100 receiving yards to running backs and have not allowed a receiving touchdown to the position through Week 5. Edmonds is the hot hand in this backfield and is worth the play as a high upside flex, especially in PPR leagues, but I would keep expectations low for this MNF matchup.

Wide Receivers

One of the wildest transactions this past offseason was certainly the DeAndre Hopkins trade. His surprise move from Houston to Arizona was shocking when it was announced back in March and is still stunning to this day. Why Hopkins, one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, was traded in his prime for a fraction of his value is something only Bill O’Brien will know and be able to understand. As far as the Cardinals are concerned, they are not looking back and will continue to use him at a high volume. Hopkins is ranked as the WR1 in PPR formats through Week 5 with 45 receptions, 528 yards, and two touchdowns and will have another great performance on Monday night against one of the worst secondaries this season (Dallas is the second-worst defense against fantasy wide receivers through Week 5). Continue to start Hopkins on Monday night and expect big numbers from him.

For the other Cardinals wide receivers, none of them have found consistent fantasy success at this point in the season so they are a risky play on Monday night. Based on the matchup, however, there is a good amount of potential upside to them in this game. It will be hard to tell which one of Larry Fitzgerald, Andy Isabella, and Christian Kirk, if any, will be able to make a positive impact on your lineup like they did in Weeks 2, 3, and 4 respectively. Kirk and Fitzgerald would be the safer selections based on their amount of targets through Week 5 but there are likely better options out there on the waiver wire or on your bench this week.

The Cowboys made a statement this offseason when they selected CeeDee Lamb 17th overall in the 2020 NFL draft; making it known that offense would be a major strength for their roster in 2020 and going forward in Dallas, especially when you consider they already had two talented wide receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the team.

So far in 2020, this commitment has spoken volumes as the Cowboys have the top passing offense in the NFL in multiple categories. This production has led to fantasy success as well with Cooper and Lamb being ranked as the WR8 and WR11 respectively in PPR leagues along with Gallup ranked as the WR33. This will be a new situation for this position group, however as the first game where all three will have be without Prescott under center. There will surely be an adjustment period but we will see what the new game plan will be on Monday night. Cooper, Lamb, and Gallup all received three targets each in the portion after Dalton came in last week so it does not look like there is one particular favorite at this point to highlight. The Cowboys wide receivers will have a tough matchup to test out their new passing attack on MNF as Arizona is ranked as the fourth-best against fantasy wide receivers through Week 5. However, Arizona has yet to face a wide receiver group as talented as Dallas and will get their first real test on Monday night so there should still be hope for Dallas’s wide receiver group.

Lamb and Cooper are both definite starts this week despite a letdown for Cooper against the Giants last week. They will continue to see a heavy target load with Dalton as the signal-caller and will be solid starts for this week on Monday night. Gallup is a good start as a WR3/Flex option this week and will look to increase his upside going forward into the 2020 season.

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Tight Ends

The only tight end that will be fantasy relevant in this MNF matchup is Dalton Schultz. Schultz, who is the TE12 in PPR scoring formats through Week 5, has been a pleasant surprise this year who has been able to spring on favorable matchups, including a Week 2 performance with nine receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown against Atlanta. He has also found a good role within this Dallas offense, ranking fourth on the team with 31 targets. It will be interesting to see how that role continues with Dalton now under center. Dalton has leaned on the tight end position in the past and will look to do so in Dallas. From 2015-2017, during the best years of his career in Cincinnati, Dalton targeted his tight end group at least 81 times each year including 100 targets to the position in 2016 when he made the Pro Bowl. He even increased those numbers in 2019 with 96 targets to Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah and company last year. It will be interesting to see how Schultz will fit in with Dalton among the other great weapons on the Dallas offense but there will be a spot for him to gain yardage and score fantasy points in your lineup, especially on Monday night against a suspect Cardinals defense (ranked thirteenth against fantasy tight ends in 2020 depending on scoring format). Start Schultz confidently this week.

Even though the Cowboys have one of the worst defenses covering tight ends in the league so far in 2020 (allowing 280 yards and three touchdowns to the position group through five games), none of the Cardinals tight ends are worth playing this week unless you are in a deep tight end premium league. Your best bet in that scenario would be Dan Arnold, who is the only Arizona tight end who has had a game with more than three receptions and 38 yards in 2020. Outside of that, this entire group should stay on your waiver wire until Murray starts targeting the tight end more.

Defense/Special Teams

Neither of these D/ST units have been consistent through the 2020 season. In fact, the Cowboys D/ST have posted two weeks where they had a negative score in most league formats. Arizona has not been much better, allowing an average of 20.4 points per game and with a turnover differential of -4, one of the worst in the league. The Cardinals D/ST may be a sneaky play in deeper leagues due to this being the first Dalton start and Arizona’s ability to get after the quarterback but there are better options out there. Leave these D/ST units on the bench/waiver wire this week.

Prediction

This game will come down to the Cowboys ability to contain Murray and the rest of the Cardinals offense. Dalton won’t likely be able to keep up with his shot for shot but if Dallas can find a way to slow them down and capitalize on those opportunities, it will keep the game close. With the struggles the Cowboys defense has had all season, I don’t see a way for them to keep Arizona from scoring early and often. I have the Cardinals coming to Dallas and winning 35-24.

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